Probe finds bridge sway set off Cambodian stampede

Stampede was set off when a crowded bridge started swaying causing mass panic.

Last Updated: Nov 25, 2010, 00:45 AM IST

Phnom Penh: An investigation into a stampede
at a festival in the Cambodian capital that killed hundreds of
revellers initially concluded it was set off when a crowded
bridge started swaying and caused mass panic.

Bayon TV, which serves as a mouthpiece for the
government, reported today an official committee set up to
probe Monday`s tragedy found many people on the bridge were
from the countryside and unaware it was normal for a
suspension bridge to sway. In their fear it was collapsing,
they tried to run off.

The TV report gave the total number of casualties as 750,
of whom 350 died, which was lower than the 378 dead and 755
injured officials announced yesterday. Asked about the
discrepancy, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said today
the official toll was 351 dead and 395 injured.

The report said the committee based its conclusions on
investigations and the testimony of witnesses.

The tragedy happened when tens of thousands of panicked
people attended a free concert on an island in the Bassac
River in Phnom Penh. As many as 2 million people are believed
to have come to the capital for celebrations of a three-day
holiday marking the end of the monsoon rain season.

Witnesses had criticized authorities for causing
congestion by blocking a second bridge across the river
despite the huge crowds that had gathered for the festival,
and for a slow and confused emergency response. A huge crowd
had come to celebrate the last night of the celebration.

Prime Minister Hun Sen described the stampede as the
biggest tragedy since the communist Khmer Rouge`s reign of
terror, which left an estimated 1.7 million people dead in the
late 1970s. He declared a day of national mourning tomorrow.

The investigating committee, which included Cabinet
ministers and city officials, said the panic was exacerbated
by the trouble people had breathing because they were so
closely packed together. It estimated 7,000-8,000 people were
on the bridge, adding up to a load of 350-400 tons.

Its report said before the stampede, those present heard
shouts the bridge was going to collapse, igniting the panic
that also saw people jump off the sides into the water.

PTI